It's Time For Your Close-Up, Ms. Mann ...

Also with tracks by Gabrielle and Supertramp.

Like the movie it's from, this soundtrack is an unusual beast. Paul Thomas

Anderson wrote and directed his film around songs by Aimee Mann, the former

'Til Tuesday leader whose solo career has become a kind of Sisyphean legend

in the music business, weathering label foldings and sales. Anderson's

career has been the opposite — he's responsible for the well-received

"Hard Eight" and the Oscar-nominated "Boogie Nights" — but it's not

hard to picture him as the ultimate Aimee Mann fan. Like Mann, Anderson is interested in the experiences of loss and regret, as well as the sometimes unhealthy ways people find to cope with such experiences. Anderson struck up a friendship with Mann just as he was beginning work on "Magnolia," and, as he says in the soundtrack's liner notes:

"For instance, in my original [emphasis his] ... screenplay, Claudia

... says, 'Now that I've met you, would you object to never seeing me

again?' I must come clean. I did not write that line. Aimee Mann wrote

that line as the opening of her song, 'Deathly,' and I wrote backwards

from that line ... It equals the heart and soul of 'Magnolia.' All stories

for the movie were written branching off from Claudia, so one could do

the math and realize that all stories come from Aimee's brain, not mine."

Mann may not agree — the movie is more than three hours, after all

— but it's true that her songs are more than just window dressing.

Indeed (and skip ahead to the next paragraph if you don't want a stylistic

twist of the movie spoiled), near the end of the film, each of the

characters sing a portion of Mann's "Wise Up" (RealAudio excerpt) to the camera.

Along with a cover of Harry Nilsson's familiar "One" (" ... is the loneliest

number") and "Momentum," an old B-side, Mann contributes

seven new songs to the soundtrack, a few of which will appear on her next

solo record. In general, the songs are more restrained than those on her

last record, I'm With Stupid, with fewer muscled riffs and more quiet

reflection. Of the new songs, "Save Me" (RealAudio excerpt) (one of the few that didn't exist as

a demo before Anderson wrote his screenplay) is the punchiest — though

even it's holding back a bit, as if Mann were worried she'd draw too much

attention away from the actors on the screen.

Mann's way with a somber hook continues to be absolutely winning, though,

and songs such as "Save Me," "Deathly" and "Driving Sideways" (RealAudio excerpt)

will, after a few listens, no doubt stick in your head something fierce.

In addition, the soundtrack features a lovely excerpt from the score by

Mann's frequent collaborator Jon Brion (who also produced and arranged the

latest record by Anderson's current squeeze, Fiona Apple), plus the familiar

club hit "Dream," by Gabrielle, and two Supertramp songs you thought you'd